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Olympics

What to watch for at the Olympics: Sunday, Feb. 23

Photo: Bob Martin/SI

The closing ceremony on Sunday will bring a conclusion to the 18 days of competition at the Sochi Olympics.

SOCHI-- The predominant story of Sochi heading into these games centered on security fears, a legitimate one given the geopolitical hornet’s nests a few hundred miles away. My colleague Michael Farber, writing prior to the opening ceremonies, offered that “the bar has been set so low that Sochi -- and by extension, Vladimir Putin -- can hardly fail. The country will be judged on its ability to deliver a telegenic and safe Olympics, not a memorable one.”

On that score, Sochi and Putin have won. As of this writing, the games have been safe. The world’s athletes and press will leave this Black Sea town with warm memories and the Russian people will be left to deal with the still-not-completed infrastructure of Sochi and the larger issues of corruption and human rights concerns.

The competition in Sochi was memorable and incredibly successful for the home country, even with the famed Russian men’s hockey team crashing out in the quarterfinals. Barring a miracle from the United States or Norway on Sunday, Russia will win the medal count. The final day of the games comes today, with only three events (out of 98) left on the program. Medals will be awarded in bobsled (men’s four-man), cross-country (men's 50km mass start free) and men’s hockey, where Canada and Sweden compete for the gold. That game is certainly of interest to SI.com readers in North America (and Stockholm, of course) as Canada attempts to become the first country since the Soviet Union in 1988 to defend an Olympic medal in men’s hockey. I asked Farber, our Hall of Fame hockey writer, to offer his prediction:

“If Sweden is going to win its second gold medal in three Olympics, two things must happen,” says Farber. “First, defenseman Erik Karlsson is going to have to create a goal, or even two, of the power play. Second, goalie Henrik Lundqvist needs to be air tight, even better than he was in the perfunctory semifinal win over Finland. Considering Karlsson is wonderfully dynamic and Lundqvist is among the best goalies in the world, this is certainly possible.

“Canada, seeking back-to-back Olympic gold medals for the first time since 1948 and 1952, has more depth and more options -- especially Drew Doughty and Shea Weber from the back, exceptional two-way forwards and a sharp Carey Price in goal. Canada has just seven goals from forwards in its five game; a goal-fest likely will not happen against a sound Swedish team. One goal or two goals might be enough, assuming Canada does not get into penalty trouble. The Canadians are bigger, quicker and play a heavier game than the Swedes. The pick: Canada.”

What to watch (all times in Eastern Standard Time)

• BOBSLED: The final two heats of the men’s four-man competition at the Sanki Sliding Center should be dramatic stuff. The Russian Federation 1 sled (driven by Alexander Zubkov) leads the competition (1:50.19) followed by Latvia-1 (1:50.23) and Germany-1. The Germans sit just 0.01 ahead of the USA 1 sled of Steven Holcomb, Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt (1:50.36) in fourth. The USA 2 sled of Nick Cunningham, Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson is in 11th place with a time of 1:51.09, 0.90 off the lead. The third heat is set for 4:30 a.m. The fourth and final heat will begin at 6:00 a.m.

• CROSS COUNTRY: The men’s 50 km mass free start (2:00 a.m.) is a long race -- two hours and grueling -- and features the star of the cross-country competition: Switzerland skier Dario Cologna, who has two gold medals in Sochi (skiathlon and the 15km classic). Major contenders today include Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Chris Andre Jespersen, as well as Russia’s Alexander Legkov. Norway’s Petter Northug is attempting to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles in the event. The Americans in the race are Kris Freeman, Noah Hoffman, Brian Gregg and Torin Koo. None are expected to medal.

• MEN’S HOCKEY: At the start of the Sochi Games, the home country dreamed of Russia being in this game. American hockey fans shared a similar desire after an incredible preliminary round run. But Canada, as it seemingly always does, arrives on the final Sunday as the team to beat in men’s hockey. The opponent today is Sweden. The gold medal is at stake. The puck drops at 7:00 a.m. “Sweden's stingy,” said Canada forward Matt Duchene. “I've played in their top league and I've played against their national team a few times. They don't give you much and they've got one of the best goalies [Henrik Lundqvist] in the world behind them so I wouldn't be surprised if it's going to be another 1-0 game."

This is the 17th time Canada and Sweden have met at an Olympics in men’s hockey -- only the U.S. and Canada have met more times (18). The Canadians lead the overall series 12-3-1, though Sweden did beat them to win gold in a penalty shootout in 1994 thanks to the brilliance of Sweden goalie Tommy Salo. Canada arrived here after holding off the U.S. 1-0 in the semifinals; Sweden beat Finland 2-1.

• CLOSING CEREMONY (11:00 a.m.)​: Sochi hands off the torch to Pyeongchang 2018.

Tweet of the day

By the numbers

4.9 million -- American viewers who watched Canada’s 3-2 overtime win over the U.S. in the women’s gold medal game, the most-watched hockey game in the U.S., excluding Stanley Cup finals, since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics men’s gold medal game.

62 -- Years since Canada won an Olympic gold medal in men's ice hockey outside of North America. The last one came in Oslo at the 1952 Winter Games.

13/2 -- Odds prior to the Sochi Games of Russia winning the overall medal count, according to Bovada.

3 -- Gold medals for Belarusian biathlete Darya Domracheva and Norway cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen, making them the most successful female athletes at the Sochi Games.

Around the web

The five stories from Sochi you’ll be talking about on Sunday:

Lockerbie: A story beyond tragedy, a story of curling and Olympic pride (By Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports) -- The author reflects on a city we should know beyond the tragedy of Pam Am 103.

Sarah Burke’s ashes spread in Sochi halfpipe (By Cam Cole, National Post) -- Burke’s Canadian teammates honored her memory here.

How Sotnikova Beat Kim, Move by Move (By Adam Leib, The New York Times) -- Leib, a coach and national technical specialist for U.S. Figure Skating, analyzes the performances with the help of the NYT’s terrific graphics team.

Sochi Notebook: Ticket scalpers given free rein outside Olympic park (By Yekaterina Kravtsova, The Moscow Times) -- “If Russia hadn't lost,” said one ticket scalper, "everybody would pay 50,000 rubles for a ticket.”

Why baseball should become a Winter Olympic sport (By Brian Costa, Wall Street Journal) -- Johnny Weir, meet Johnny Gomes.